Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Jerusalem Opera and guests perform Mozart's "Magic Flute"

Photo: Elad Zagman

The Jerusalem Opera is a non-profit association, debuting  with a Gala Event in  2012 and performing  "Don Giovanni", its first fully staged opera in 2013 at the Citadel of David. The Jerusalem Opera presents a full-scale opera production annually. The company’s present production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” was performed both in Jerusalem and Ashdod. Directed and conducted by Omer Arieli, stage director was Monica L. Waitzfelder, assistant stage director - Ari Teperberg. The Jerusalem Opera Choir and members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir (chorus master: Oded Shomrony) were joined by soloists and the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra (concertmaster: Bella Portnov). This writer attended the performance on December 28th 2017 in the Sherover Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre.


When viewing this enchanting opera, in all its originality and splendid music, it is difficult to imagine how difficult Mozart’s life was at the time of the work’s genesis. Mozart had fallen on hard times: 1790 was a hard year, with the composer’s constant concern over money and his wife Constanze’s health, not to speak of his own feeling of not being fully appreciated. With no official commissions, the situation looked increasingly dire. His old friend, actor, singer and poet Emanuel Schikaneder came up with a suggestion - a play about magic, a subject that was all the rage in Vienna! And so it came about that “The Magic Flute”, their joint work, despite needing some time to be fully appreciated in all its depth, became one of the most popular and most performed operas in history. Whimsical and entertaining as it may be, with its motley collection of rustic and fantastical characters, the work expounds some deep convictions, with the triumph of good over evil and the serious scenes of the choir of priests – reminiscent of a gathering of freemasons –  the work is deeply imbued with humanistic idealism.

Monica Waitzfelder’s stage direction kept all the latter in mind as the cast and the very many people behind the scenes and in the orchestra pit recreated a world of beauty, magic and naivety (infused with some negative elements). There was much fantasy in the pastel-hued stage sets, lit by lanterns and populated by animals, large, lifelike puppets and some quirky costumes, such as those of the three Ladies, charmingly portrayed by Mima Millo, Noa Hope and Anna Peshes. One could say that, with simple means, the visuals of the production were attractive. There was a line-up of excellent singers - soprano Na’ama Shulman as an empathic, appealing and convincing Pamina, bass Denis Sedov as an imposing Sarastro and soprano Ayelet Kagan playing the part of Papagena with youthful charm. Tenor Semjon Bulinsky (Switzerland), in his debut with the Jerusalem Opera, played a steadfast, energetic Tamino. As Monostatos, tenor Jean-Christophe Born (France), a supple, limber artist, is portrayed as a lovable, buffoon-like fellow (a far cry from the original racist view of a black man who is not to be trusted). In love with Pamina, he is the typical loser, and more the pity!
'Everyone feels the joys of love,
Bill and coo, flirt, snuggle, and kiss,
And I am supposed to avoid love,
Because a Black is ugly,
Because a Black is ugly.
Have I, then, been given no heart?
I am also fond of girls,
I am also fond of girls,
Always to live without a woman
Would truly be the blaze of hell,
Would truly be the blaze of hell…’

Hungarian soprano Viktoria Varga made for a splendid Queen of the Night, her creamy coloratura voice soaring up and through the vocal registers with ease, certainly delighting the audience. As Papageno (originally played by Schikaneder himself!), baritone Samuel Berlad (entering the stage on a scooter!) shone, giving life, warmth and sincerity to the role of the clumsy, comical but amiable coward, his rich voice and fine German taking him through the feathered person’s naive gaffes to finally team up with his Papagena. The chorus, robed in gold, presented well-balanced and polished performance, with the Ashdod Orchestra offering fine musical support. .

One problem of staging “The Magic Flute” in Israel is the text’s large quantity of spoken German, quite a challenge to Hebrew speakers. Spoken sections were certainly articulate, but some of them sounded stilted and Teutonic. A huge undertaking, involving a host of dedicated people on stage and off., the Jerusalem Opera’s performance of “The Magic Flute” presented the opera’s marvellous music and fairy tale world in a most delightful manner.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pianist Ishay Shaer's recently issued disc - LATE BEETHOVEN

Photo: Oren Hayman
Considered one of the leading Israeli pianists of his generation, Ishay Shaer has performed extensively throughout the world, also winning national and international prizes. In recent years, he has been establishing himself as a reputable chamber music performer. His arrangement for piano trio of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No.17 “Tempest” was received with enthusiasm. Here are some thoughts and impressions on his recently issued disc  - “Late Beethoven” - recorded in 2017 in the Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK (recording producer: Andrew Keener) for the Orchid Classics label.

Piano Sonata No. 28, Op. 101 is the second of the series of Beethoven's "Late Period" sonatas, with the composer’s writing now taking on a more personal character, but steeped in a sense of freedom and fantasy. It coincides with the composer’s decision in 1816 to Germanize the Italian terminology traditionally used in musical literature. Beethoven himself described Piano Sonata No.28, composed in the summer of the same year, as "a series of impressions and reveries". By this stage of his life, his deafness was almost total,  leaving him to grapple with his own isolation, hence the self-contemplative character of the later sonatas. One pitfall of pianists performing these highly personal works is over-identification, in which the performer assumes Beethoven’s suffering as his own. Fortunately, this is not the case with Shaer, a young artist who approaches each movement with objective, fresh energy, presenting the opening movement “Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung”  (Somewhat lively, and with the most heartfelt expression) with relaxed warmth and tenderness of sound. Shaer takes on board the second movement’s nervous dotted Romantic-style march in playing that is carefully delineated, disquieting  and exciting, but ever free of coarseness of touch. Following his sensitive reading of the poetic and introspective third movement, with its flashbacks to the opening movement, he gives articulate expression to the fourth movement’s rich, high-powered offering of ideas - fugal, waltz-like, muscular and occasionally delicate - its occasional outburst of the falling third motif of the subject there to be heard. A well-balanced reading of the work.

Beethoven’s three sets of Bagatelles, referred to by him as “Kleinigkeiten” (small things) consist of  Op.33  published in 1803, the 11 “New” Bagatelles Op.119 (1823) and the Six Bagatelles Op. 126 (1825). From the composer’s sketchbooks, we know that these years of publication are not necessarily relevant to when each individual piece was composed. Ishay Shaer’s recording includes the Op.119 and 126 Bagatelles. In his playing of the Op.119 Bagatelles, in which he displays clarity and a fine concept of the transparent fingerwork required for essentially Classical moments, he presents the listener with the delightful and unconfined yet disparate world of the miniature. Reading deeply into the meaning of each small delicacy and, indeed, into Beethoven’s directives, he evokes the coy naiveté of No.1 (Allegretto), the whimsical dialogue between soprano and bass in the following Andante con moto, the intrinsic sincerity of the Andante cantabile (No.4) to be contrasted by the fuller, galloping setting of a one-minute Risoluto. He opens No.6 (Andante-Allegretto) with the  Beethoven’s “posing of questions”, to be answered by a fantasia of varied utterances. After the diversely created fabric and concluding outburst of No.7 (Allegro, ma non troppo), he invites the listener to bask in the pensive tranquility of No.8 (Moderato cantabile)...but not for long, for here come the enticing sweeping arpeggiated Vivace moderato (No.9) and the syncopated urgency of the minuscule syncopated Allegramente (No.10). The final bagatelle (Andante, ma non troppo), measured and kindly, seems to step out,  restoring graceful order in gently embellished playing. As we listen, we find each piece  stamped with Beethoven’s genius, with no hint as to the financial distress, illness and drawn-out lawsuits undergone by the composer in the early 1820s.  Shaer’s playing, refreshingly minimal in his use of the sustaining pedal, speaks of textures, moods, contrasts and registers in a language of gestures and imagination, furnished with both tasteful spontaneity and control.

Beethoven began the Six Bagatelles of Op 126 towards the end of 1823, after having almost completed the last movement of the Ninth Symphony, and finishing them early in the following spring. Aware of their excellence, he described them as “6 Bagatelles or Trifles for solo piano, some of which are rather more developed and probably the best pieces of this kind I have written”. Ishay Shaer’s performance of them supports this, showcasing the subtle craftsmanship of Beethoven’s last work for piano and how the composer defies conventional forms, only to engage in his own sophisticated structures. Shaer makes a profound study of the pieces’ rich array of emotions - the noble tranquility of No.1, the lush, tender musings of No.3 and the unabashed and semplice Quasi allegretto of No.5. These are, however, punctuated by the drama, capriciousness and split personality of the No.2 Allegro and the fast flow of ideas and moods of the larger-scale Presto of No.4, to conclude with the gripping momentary outbursts and feisty fragments of No.6, these surrounding an expansive lyrical Andante. A fulfilling listening experience!

In Ishay Shaer’s handling of Piano Sonata No.30 in E-major Op.109, he enlists his splendidly rich and articulate piano technique to bring alive the musical text of this most unique work, a work indicative of the experimenting carried out by the composer in his late artistic endeavors. Following its opening, curiously seeming to take up in mid-phrase, he plays out its text with freshness and wonderment, exploring each gesture, each new tonality and the expressive meaning of each dynamic change. In its fast flow of changing gestures, the Prestissimo (2nd movement) springs forth, its erupting, insistent and scherzo-like intensity juxtaposed with mysterious and intimate material. However, it is the last much lengthier movement that offers the listener the greatest wealth of Beethoven’s originality of expression, its set of variations arising from its “gesangvoll” (cantabile) opening subject. With brilliance and the most nimble of fingerwork, the artist  takes the listener through and beyond the pianistic kaleidoscope of the variations, leading into one of the most emotional climaxes in all of Beethoven’s music and back again to the warm, empathic balm of the movement’s opening. Ishay Shaer’s deep enquiry into the sonata’s text brings out the sheer beauty and bloom of this work.

In this recording, the listener is invited to relish both the lush timbre of the piano used for the recording and the disc’s superb, mellifluous sound quality. Ishay Shaer’s profound, insightful performance reflects the enigmatic mix of simplicity and complexity of these late Beethoven pieces. Hearing Shaer’s interpretations of them proves that late Beethoven repertoire is not reserved only for the world-weary!


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Three Pianists and Four Strings at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

Dima Pocitari,Dror Semmel,Nitzan Ben Canetty,Ron Trachtman,Gili Radian-Sade,Michael Zertsekel,Gal Nyska   Photo: Guy Sepak

One of the most unique ensembles in Israel is the three-piano combination of Dror Semmel, Michael Zertsekel and Ron Trachtman. Their latest performance “Three Pianos and Four Strings” took place to a full hall at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem (Jerusalem) on December 16th 2017. As the title implies, they were joined by a string quartet for this concert - violinists Dima Pocitari and Nitzan Ben Canetty, violist Gili Radian-Sade and ‘cellist Gal Nyska - all young, all soloists and all members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The concert opened with J.S.Bach’s Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C-major BWV 1061, played by Ron Trachtman, Michael Zertsekel and the string quartet. Probably Bach’s only harpsichord concerto not originating as a transcription from other instruments, the first version was for two unaccompanied keyboards. The addition of orchestral parts would be assumed not to be that of Bach as the orchestra adds very little to the dialogue. Tension and contrast are essential to a concerto, but in this case the keyboard instruments play less "against" the orchestra than they do against each other in an antiphonal manner.  Discussion of playing a Bach concerto on historical instruments or not is irrelevant here...or is it?   Hearing it at the Eden-Tamir Center (and at close range) obliges any authentic movement purists in the audience to listen objectively and re-evaluate the flexibility of Bach’s music. What was rewarding in this performance was the fine, carefully-balanced and living sound, sensitive support on the part of the string-players and forthright, complementing and mirroring of the pianos, with bold and direct tutti moments always preserving a richly cushioned sound. Trachtman and Zertsekel gave the Adagio (2nd movement) a delicate reading, offering clarity of contrapuntal layers and some ornamentation.

W.A.Mozart’s Concerto in F-major K.242 (1776) was originally written for three pianos. It is sometimes referred to as the “Lodron” Concerto due to the fact that it was commissioned by Countess Antonia Lodron (hostess to Salzburg’s leading musical salon) to be played by her two daughters, Aloysia and Giuseppa. The part for the younger Giuseppa is less demanding. When Mozart himself eventually played this concerto in 1780, in one of his last public performances in Salzburg, he rearranged it for two pianos, a version that makes greater demands on the soloists. This was the version played by Semmel,Trachtman and the string quartet at the Ein Kerem concert. Although Alfred Einstein in his Mozart biography looks down his nose at “the purely galant Concerto”, there is no denying that at barely twenty years of age, Mozart was capable of writing a full-blown concerto. As opposed to the Bach C-major Concerto, the strings here indulge in much more melodic material. Semmel and Trachtman delighted the audience in their dialogue of precise, clean Classical fingerwork, their attention to each nuance and its transparency of sound never clouded by over-abundant use of the sustaining pedal. The performance reflected Mozart’s sunny temperament, his particular brand of humane, cantabile expression and the practice of creating small transitions.  Despite the lack of oboe- and horn timbres of Mozart’s scoring, the performance made for delightful listening.

Following the intermission,  the string quartet performed Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D-major op.20/4. Opus 20, Haydn’s six  “Sun” quartets, represents an unprecedented flowering of his string quartet writing, now straddling styles and ideas and drawing on the furthest reaches of his musical imagination. Led securely by Moldavian-born Dima Pocitari, the IPO players,  highlighted Haydn’s richness of ideas, temperament and contrasts of mood in incisive playing. The second movement was given an expressive reading, with Pocitari adding his own poignant personal touch on the repeat of the Adagio. The zesty, syncopated gypsy-style Minuet,  with its ‘cello solo, a testimony to  the composer's many excursions into the area of folk music, was followed by the virtuosity and pizzazz of the final Presto movement.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Concerto for Three Harpsichords and orchestra BWV 1603 in the key of D minor some time  between 1735 and 1745. It was only first published in 1846. As with almost all of J.S. Bach's harpsichord concertos, it has been speculated to be based on an existing concerto for a melodic instrument. However, the source for this concerto is still unknown. It is also said that Bach's sons may have been involved in the work’s composition, or at least in its performance. The artists at the Jerusalem concert were quick to draw the audience into the ebullient musical agenda of  the opening movement, their hearty playing of its wonderfully complex musical tapestry carefully delineated. Following the long, silken melodic lines of the  tranquil, chromatic Alla Siciliana, with the solo lines handed from one pianist to another, the demanding, the vibrant  Allegro had each pianist dueting with the ‘cello (Gal Nyska). Sensing the idea of camaraderie in such a performance, it was not difficult to imagine Bach and his  two eldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philip Emmanuel, in joyful domestic music-making.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ensemble PHOENIX hosts overseas artists in a chamber concert on the subject "Of Love and Sin"

Myrna Herzog,Marina Minkin,Sofia Pedro,Ricardo Rapoport (Jonathan Szwarc)

“Of Love and Sin” was the title of Ensemble PHOENIX’s recent chamber concert. This writer attended the event at the Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in downtown Jerusalem on December 12th 2017. Artists performing the concert were soprano Sofia Pedro (Portugal), Ricardo Rapoport (Brazil) on bassoon and cavaquinho, Marina Minkin (harpsichord) and PHOENIX founder and director Myrna Herzog playing viola da gamba.

For the evening’s concert, we were shown to a small, quite unusual room. Its vaulted ceiling displayed simple frescoes of biblical scenes and quotes in German, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Turkish and other languages; its seemingly wood-panelled walls turned out to be a painted effect. This was certainly a unique setting for what was to be a different kind of program, a program challenging two bass instruments to join- and strike a balance with harpsichord and the soprano voice. “Of Love and Sin” was a program bringing together music from Portugal, Brazil, Belgium, France and Italy.

The quartet opened with a festive rendition of the Italian traditional melody of “Maoz Tzur” (Rock of Salvation), as notated by  Benedetto Marcello. The song is traditionally sung during the Feast of Lights. Sofia Pedro contended especially well with the Hebrew text! This was followed by all four artists performing the same Benedetto Marcello’s joyful setting of  Psalm XV:11 (1724) a Psalm of David from his “Estro poetico-armonico” collection. It uses the “Maoz Tzur” melody as compositional material. Benedetto Marcello and his older brother Alessandro were important personages in the musical life of Venice in the first half of the 17th century. Written in the sonata da chiesa form, Benedetto Marcello’s Sonata 2 op.1 for viola da gamba and basso continuo is an elegant, dignified work but not without some intense, exciting moments. Alongside Herzog’s vital and elegantly ornamented playing of the viol part, the bassoon at times (by nature of its timbre) sounded a little too prominent. In the slow movements, the harpsichord (Minkin) added moments of textural and melodic beauty. J.S.Bach's solo keyboard arrangement of  Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D-minor BWV 974 dates from around 1715. In playing that was subtle, gently flexed, precise and decidedly gripping, Minkin highlighted the sophistication of Bach’s arrangement, exposing its marvellous array of textures in the outer movements, Bach’s reworking of it still adhering to its  concerto origin. Her eloquent playing of the Adagio (2nd movement) invited the fantasy to unfold  via  its harmonic course. Minkin was playing on an Italianate instrument built by Thomas Wolf in 1970; a historical replica of a harpsichord by Giacomo Ridolfi, 1665.

 A more sombre piece, and one probably new to the local audience was Belgian composer Joseph-Hector Fiocco’s “Lamentations” (1730s). Pedro’s singing was focused, expressive and devotional, as each movement took the listener into its subject matter  with long, contemplative melismatic passages. In Rapoport’s hands, the unique bass role, often displaying its own very different agenda, was rich in melodic and rhythmic interest, at times creating dialogue with the singer, at others, taking an individual stand. In Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s Sonata No.2 Op.50 in G for bassoon and continuo, a work straddling both French and Italian Baroque styles and showcasing many of the compositional techniques that characterize  Boismortier’s writing, Ricardo Rapoport’s playing was sympathetic, playful and good-humoured; his splendid legato quality emerging warm and appealing as he created contrasts between the movements. At the very conclusion of the 3rd movement rondo, he held onto the final dissonance just that bit longer in a whimsical, gently teasing Baroque touch.

 And to love, its complications and the underhand tricks lovers play in Michel Pignolet de Montéclair’s chamber cantata “Le triomphe de la constance”, scored throughout for soprano, obbligato bass viol, and continuo. Montéclair is known to have given a more prominent role to his obbligato instruments than any other composer of cantatas before his time, as is clear by the use of totally independent bass lines. In fact, his music to “La triomphe de la constance” features extensive substantive solo passages for the bass viol, here played evocatively by Herzog. In close collaboration with the players, Sofia Pedro’s rendition of the work was dramatic, spontaneous and finely crafted. With her natural theatrical flair and the wink of an eye, she concludes by drawing all the text’s cunning threads together with a few home truths:
‘Let us not yield to inconstancy;
Let us flee its perilous traps
And let our perseverance
Make us worthy of happiness.
We seek new pleasure in vain new attachments;
It is only with constant devotion
That we can fulfill all our desires.’
Marcos Portugal (1762-1830) was not only the most prolific Portuguese-born composer but also the most successful, both in Portugal and abroad (he died a Brazilian citizen). We heard two of his modinhas (traditional Brazilian love songs). Pedro’s performance of the strophic, cynical “Você trata amor em brinco” (You are making fun of love) was coquettish and saucy. For her warm and appealing singing of Portugal's "Cuidados, tristes cuidados" (Worries, Sad Worries), a  tender and unabashedly sentimental song, Ricardo Rapoport joined the ensemble with the beguiling and energetic sound of the cavaquinho (a small guitar played with a plectrum). Brazilian composer Ronaldo Miranda (b.1948) wrote much material for Myrna Herzog’s ensemble in Brazil in the 1980s. “Cantares”, a poignant and fragile love song, coloured with just a touch of nostalgia, made for a delightful and tranquil end to the program.

Ensemble PHOENIX caters to the curious music-lover. Offering new and inspirational musical experiences, Dr. Myrna Herzog continues to bring captivating repertoire to concert halls and with performance of the highest standard.




Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra celebrates Georg Philipp Telemann with church cantatas and concertos

Photo: Maxim Reider

“A Christmas Special”, the second concert of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 29th season was an all-Telemann concert marking 250 years of the composer’s death. This writer attended the event at the Jerusalem International YMCA on December 6th, 2017. Under the direction of JBO founder and musical director David Shemer, orchestra and soloists presented little-known works of Telemann alongside more familiar works - three church cantatas and two concertos.

In his program notes, Maestro Shemer mentioned the fact that Georg Philipp Telemann’s oeuvre comprised over 3000 works, his church cantatas alone numbering more than 1000, with the mind-blowing fact there was no “existing instrument or chamber ensemble for which Telemann did not write a work” and that “in all these he displayed complete command ...retaining his high- and uncompromising standard of composition”.  

 Subsequent to his posts in Sorau/Silesia and Eisenach, Telemann (16811767) held the position of Frankfurt’s ‘Städtischer Musikdirektor’ (i.e. the city’s musical director) for almost nine years, from 1712 to 1721. With his sacred and profane music written during these years, he laid the foundation of his international fame.  As his Frankfurt post required him to arrange church music for Sundays and holidays, he would compose sacred cantatas on a regular basis. All three cantatas performed at the JBO concert stem from this Frankfurt period. The program opened with “Weg, nichtige Freuden” (Go away, fine pleasures) the cantata’s tutti and ensuing arias forming one lilting, dance-like continuum, taken up by each singer in turn, the timbre of instrumental scoring indeed more alluring and luminous for its inclusion of  recorders (Drora Bruck, Idit Shemer).  “Kommt alle, die ihr traurig seid” (Come all ye who are sad)  from Telemann’s French Cycle, offers more variety of cantata elements - arias, recitative, chorus and a genuine chorale. Its message of comfort in times of need was well expressed by the singers, as they highlighted key words. The final tutti, with its exuberant fugal entries, ended somewhat enigmatically on the dominant chord, suggesting it would have been followed by another work or movement. For me, the highlight was Telemann’s early Frankfurt cantata “Sei getreu bis in den Tod” (Be faithful, even to the point of death) written when Telemann was still in his  twenties. Here, the composer gives us four arias for the separate voice types, the only tutti section, opening and concluding the work, sung by all four singers, guaranteeing better-than-choral ensemble singing. The effect was very intimate and just right for the meditative quality of the work, which would have been written for normal occasions of Lutheran worship rather than for festivities. Highlights were baritone Guy Pelc’s vivid word-painting and the alto aria, its text sensitively expressed by Avital Dery and joined by the violin obbligato splendidly shaped and ornamented by Noam Schuss and Hillel Sherman’s stirring and involving performance of the final aria:
'O God, grant that my soul remains true to Thee for ever,
So that when that awesome day  summons me to rise from the grave’s pit,
My eyes will be able to see thy Divine Face in the sapphire-like heavens.’
Young soprano Adaya Peled’s singing is informed and precise. Her performance of  “Contemptible world”, with its “vain pleasures”, “pain and grief” might have benefitted from  more emotional- and vocal intensity.

Telemann’s Concerto for three violins, strings and b.c. in F-major, following the Vivaldian model, comes from the second production of Telemann’s “Tafelmusik” (or “Musique de Table”) , the endorsement of Telemann’s conception of  ‘mixed taste’, in which elements of Italian, French and German musical styles come together with the influence of the street music of Poland and Silesia. In all three movements Telemann interweaves the virtuosity of the single violin with the variety of colours he conjures up from the three playing together, structurally held together by the ripieno passages for the full string section. The audience at the Jerusalem YMCA auditorium was witness to how each gesture was played out with subtlety and intelligence and handed on by violinists Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid and Rachel Ringelstein. Theirs is the art of listening, balance and good taste, the artists’ individuality nevertheless emerging in their playing. Definitely a performance to be observed, not just heard.

If Telemann’s Concerto for flute and recorder in E-minor, the only one of its kind,  is a crowd-pleaser, there is every justification for the fact. There was a conspicuous number of recorder players in the Jerusalem audience, professional and amateur players, all probably aware of Telemann’s own proficiency on the recorder and the resulting technical challenges in his many works written for the instrument. If Johann Mattheson’s description of the scale of E-minor as “deep-thinking, grieved and sad” is accurate, Drora Bruck (recorder) and Idit Shemer’s (Baroque flute) performance of the opening Largo, with its sensibilité and elegant shaping of phrases, including some splendid ornamentation, suited the concept. The artists achieved an impressive blend of sound, engaging in the fine dialogue of the second movement (at times overshadowed by the orchestra) then presenting the fragility and intimacy of the third movement, an E-major Largo. The secret is eye contact. The ebullient and genial stomping Polish rondo dance of the last movement, with  its octave- and insistent bass notes, allowed players and audience to let their hair down, sending all home with the devil-may-care joy of the eastern European folk dance.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Journey Through Time - Austrian artists mezzo-soprano Annette Lubosch and pianist Ingmar Beck perform at the Austrian Hospice, Jerusalem

Ingmar Beck,Annette Lubosch (photo:Petra Klose)
“A Journey Through Time” was the theme of an Advent Season Concert performed by mezzo-soprano Annette Lubosch and pianist Ingmar Beck in the Imperial Salon of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, Jerusalem, on December 2nd 2017. Ms. Lubosch, known for her versatility and lively personality, introduced the concert by saying that, inspired by the colour and variety of Jerusalem, she wished to be seen as a “wanderer” through the different items of the evening’s program.

The first half of the concert included a number of Romantic pieces, opening with a sprightly reading of “Villanelle” from Hector Berlioz’ “Les nuits d'été” (Théophile Gautier), Lubosch’s fresh singing describing a spring scene brimming with the optimism of new love. In three Schubert songs,  the first - “Wohin” (To Where) was no less optimistic, with the piano’s ceaseless suggestion of a babbling brook. Then, the major-minor tranquil but fateful duality of  "Der Vollmond Strahlt auf Bergeshöh'n" (The Full Moon Shines on the Mountain Height) from “Rosamunde”. This was followed by “Gute Nacht” (Good Night), its narrative setting the scene for the “Winterreise” (Winter’s Journey), with the piano’s incessant chords depicting the man’s footsteps. I found the artists’ slow tempo  a little on the heavy side. In the “Habanera” from Bizet’s “Carmen”, Annette Lubosch gave a spontaneous and convincing performance as the saucy gypsy girl Carmen:

…’Love is a rebellious bird
That none can tame,
And it is well in vain that one calls it
If it suits him to refuse
Nothing to be done, threat or prayer.
The one talks well, the other is silent;
And it's the other that I prefer
He says nothing but he pleases me…’
Also telling of gypsies and cruel trickery, the two artists’ performance of the eerie Spanish traditional song “Hijo de la luna” (Son of the Moon) was vibrant, emotional and dynamic.

Annette Lubosch’s competence in the genre of musical theatre was displayed in her attention to detail and gestures, her humour and the touching, communicative renditions of numbers from “My Fair Lady”,”The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story”.

Following Adolphe Schlösser’s rather pedestrian “He that keepeth Israel” (Psalm 121), surely  one of the German/English composer’s less inspiring pieces, we heard a selection of Christmas songs, beginning with a sensitive performance of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Weihnachten” (Christmas), with Ingmar Beck’s delicate accompaniment adding to the song’s sense of well-being. After “What Child is This” to the Greensleeves melody, the artists gave a hearty reading of a traditional Austrian Christmas carol (sung in Austrian dialect) and a lively, sentimental and touching presentation  of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, a song written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louis”.

This concert was the first collaboration between the two artists. Ingmar Beck, today highly active as a conductor, added much to the evening’s enjoyment and musicality with his accompaniments.  A nice touch to the evening was Annette Lubosch’s reading of a few poems. In a  program hosted by Rector Markus St. Bugnyar and the Austrian Hospice, Annette Lubosch, Ingmar Beck and contralto Veronika Dünser were also here to give of their time to tutoring local young people.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Elisabeth Plank (Austria) performs a solo harp recital at the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem

Elisabeth Plank (photo:Theresa Pewal)
Opening the new season’s American Colony Concert Series, we heard Austrian harpist Elisabeth Plank in  “L’ARPA NOTTURNA” a solo recital on November 29th 2017 at the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem. Addressing the audience of local and overseas guests, Ms. Plank introduced each of the works and spoke a little about the harp itself. As to its repertoire, the selection of works on the program - from the Baroque to the 20th century - was quite an eye-opener regarding the range of solo pieces available to the instrument. Needless to say, not all were originally written for the instrument. Elisabeth Plank takes much interest in contemporary works, regularly collaborating with young composers, some of whom  have dedicated works to her.

The program opened with Gabriel Fauré’s Impromptu No.6 in D-flat major (1904) , possibly the most famous classical work for solo harp. For those in the audience fearing an evening of insipid tinkling angelic sounds, it was clear from the first notes of the piece that this was not the case at all. Plank created a canvas of many timbres ranging from almost orchestral-sounding tutti to faraway dreamy utterances, her playing bristling with virtuosic competence and clean melodic lines, expressiveness and fantasy. No less demanding was French harpist Henriette Renié’s (1875-1956) “Legende”, a substantial programmatic work, inspired by the poem "Les Elfes" by the French poet Charles-Marie-Rene Leconte de Lisle. Plank’s playing, giving life to the work’s cadenza passages, exploitation of tonality, complex rhythms and textures, was evocative of the knight riding through a forest, of the dialogue, of a dance of gnomes, of impending doom and, finally, the chill of heart when the knight meets his bride in the form of a ghost. Another work with programmatic content was Paul Hindemith’s Sonate für Harfe (1939) It seems what Hindemith wanted to convey in the 1st movement was that of standing in a European plaza in front of a large church or cathedral and hearing the organ play. Plank creates it in a rich multi-layered soundscape of majestic, modal utterances. To create the picture of children playing in the same plaza (2nd movement) we hear  the harp's capacity for quick filigree and lightness of texture. The last movement was inspired by a nostalgic poem by the 19th century poet Hölty - a dying harpist's last wish: that, after his death, his harp be placed behind the church altar as a memorial, where "im Abendrot" (at sunset) it would sound, seemingly of its own accord. Plank’s playing of this bitter-sweet movement leaves the listener deep in his own thoughts.

The Arioso from Heinz Holliger’s “Praeludium, Arioso und Passacaglia” (1987) is a small piece with a strong personality, its contrapuntal web and short statements punctuated by abrupt, finger-shredding chords. Plank’s playing of it shows that virtuosity and terse content do not rule out expressiveness.Then to another composition of the same period - Ami Maayani’s “Maqamat” (1984). Born in Israel, Maaayani is known for his compositions for harp. Many of his works are based on local traditional Jewish and Arabic music. Elisabeth Plank created the composer’s rich oriental mood piece - a vibrant weave of homophonic sections, octave melodies, melodies overlaying distant background sonorities, clusters and moments almost orchestral in concept. Playing it by heart gave Plank’s playing a sense of freedom and spontaneity.

The program included two arrangements. Henriette Renie’s transcription of Liszt’s piano piece “Le rossignol” (The Nightingale) is well suited to the harp, with its nostalgic Russian melody and plaintive bird calls all emerging in Plank’s sensitive and artistically shaped rendition. Domenico Scarlatti’s tranquil harpsichord Sonata in A-major K.208 was played with simple charm and flexibility. As the great harpsichordist Wanda Landowska is known to have said: "When we hear Scarlatti's music, we know that we are in the climate of sunlight and warmth. It is Italy, it is Spain." Elisabeth Plank sent the audience home with the exquisite melodious warmth of Schubert’s “Serenade”.

Born in Vienna in 1991, Elisabeth Plank has won prizes in competitions in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan and is active on the international concert scene. She made her solo debut at the Vienna Konzerthaus at age 17, making her orchestral debut in 2006 with Handel’s Harp Concerto at the Hofburgkapella (Vienna). This was her first Jerusalem recital. She delighted the audience gathered in the Pasha Room of the American Colony Hotel with her versatility and good taste in a program of great variety and colour. Ms. Petra Klose of K und K Wien, the company bringing artists to the American Colony Concert Series, was present at the event.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ensemble PHOENIX to host Portuguese soprano Sofia Pedro in a program "Of Love and Sin"

Soprano Sofia Pedro (photo:Smiljka Boskov)
Ensemble PHOENIX is about to offer concert-goers some rare gems in “Of Love and Sin”, a program which will be performed in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this month. The complications of love and sin will be presented (but not solved!) in works of composers from Portugal, Brazil, France and Italy. Of special interest to many of us will be hearing the works played on authentic Baroque instruments.  Artists taking part in the concert are soprano Sofia Pedro (Portugal), Ricardo Rapoport (Brazil) classical bassoon and cavaquinho, Marina Minkin on harpsichord and PHOENIX musical director Myrna Herzog on viola da gamba. Those who attended “A Brazilian Requiem for a Portuguese Queen” will remember the natural, rich and expressive singing of Sofia Pedro and the timbral beauty of Rapoport’s playing. Minkin and Herzog’s musicianship need no introduction to Israeli audiences. This program of works by the Marcello brothers, Bach, Joseph-Hector Fiocco, Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Boismortier, Marcos Portugal and Ronaldo Miranda, performed by four outstanding musicians, promises to be one of this season’s chamber music highlights. And, in celebration of Hanukkah (Feast of Lights), the artists will play a Baroque arrangement of the traditional “Maoz Zur”.

Tuesday December 12th 20:30, Italian Museum , 25 Hillel St., Jerusalem. Tickets: PHOENIX Early Music site

Wednesday December 13th 20:30, Beit Daniel, 62 B’nei Dan St., Tel Aviv. Tickets: PHOENIX Early Music site

Thursday December 14th 20:30, Theatre Studio, Beit Hecht, 142 Hanassi St, Haifa. Tickets: 04-836-3804


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Pianist Jonathan Biss (USA) performs a solo recital at the International YMCA, Jerusalem

Photo: Benjamin Ealowega
Concert No.3 of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s 2017-2018 International Series, taking place at the Jerusalem International YMCA on November 16th 2017, featured American pianist Jonathan Biss in a solo recital. Coming from a family of professional musicians, Jonathan Biss, in addition to his performance schedule, shares his musical knowledge and ideas in his writing and teaching. A member of faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music, he also engages in teaching online and is in the midst of a nine-year recording project of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas.

The recital opened with W.A.Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.8 in A-minor K.310, written in 1778 and one of only two piano sonatas the composer wrote in minor keys. It also happens to be  one of Mozart’s most dramatic and tragic-sounding pieces. Whether this was an expression of events of the 22-year-old composer’s life at the time (work dissatisfaction, his mother’s death) or perhaps the influence of Mozart’s deep involvement with Johann Schobert’s sonatas, which display Romantic tendencies and  sharp contrasts, even rage and despair, we can not know.  Biss’s reading of the opening Allegro maestoso movement, at times more “furioso” than “maestoso” was stormy and exciting; his brilliant technique served the movement’s drama well. The slow movement emerged rich in detail, certainly charming but not heart-on-sleeve playing. In repeating sections, Biss would invite his listener to hear a new take on the same music. In both outer movements, the pianist made extensive use of the sustaining pedal in runs.

Distinguished American composer, pianist, conductor and teacher Leon Kirchner (1919-2009) composed Interlude II for Jonathan Biss. The short piece, comprising two contrasting sections to be played without a break, was inspired by an earlier dramatic work of the composer - a small opera based on texts of five American poets. Interlude II (2002) reflects two scenes from it, but Kirchner leaves the audience “to decipher the complexities of the work, and its gestalt.” So, what the listener hears is a somewhat programmatic work on the part of the composer, but without the listener being aware of its content. Indeed, this is a mood piece alternating between full, complex textures and pensive, personal fragility of utterance, its shaping and wonderful palette of pianistic textures sensitively presented by Biss and with easeful virtuosity. Kirchner’s music, its sound world echoing late Romantic writing as well as his association with the 2nd Viennese School (he had been a student of Schoenberg) is his own voice; it is beguiling and subtle. Biss’s playing paid felicitous homage to the music of this dominant figure of American music, a composer whose works are not heard enough in today’s concert halls.

L. van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.17 opus 31 No.2 in D-minor “Tempest”, composed around 1801, when the composer was already showing signs of deafness, is indeed tempestuous in its first and third movements. In the opening movement, Biss brought out Beethoven’s extreme contrasts of mood, its intense sections of rich textures stormy both in texture and tempo contrasted by calmer sections in which time seemed to stand still, moments of inspiration, as if the pianist was composing these passages himself.  Taking time to spell out the Adagio’s musical agenda, i.e. Beethoven’s thought process, if with some saturation of the sustaining pedal, a sense of well-being pervaded the movement’s recitative-like and beautifully-shaped melodies, with the “tempest” appearing only briefly in the 32nd note arpeggios near the middle of the movement. Taking the listener into the final movement with delightfully light, nimble playing, Biss juxtaposed the movement’s ideas and dynamics, its vivacity now less about struggle and more about joyful and triumphant feelings, as he brought the work to its conclusion with a whisper.

Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C-major op.17, begun in 1836 as a single-movement work reflecting the composer’s long for Clara Wieck, his future wife, ended up as a  work of three movements, each very different emotionally, the massive Fantasie repurposed  to raise money for a monument of Beethoven. Published in 1839 and dedicated to Franz Liszt, the fantasy nevertheless abounds in the passion of young love, as in the tender melodic phrase quoted from Beethoven’s “An die ferne Geliebte” addressing Clara.. Biss enlists his virtuosic technique and creativity  to presents Schumann’s rich, living canvas, indulging in its extravagant outbursts, its lyricism, dreams and its poetry as he displays the composer’s “orchestration” of the piano in an unbridled, uncompromising manner. Schumann’s melodies emerge as lyrical, soaring filaments of yearning, the impassioned motto theme moving the spirit on each new appearance of it. Jonathan Bill’s performance of the Fantasia was engaging,  experiential and rewarding.